Science is an important subject in the National Curriculum (NC); it is a subject that we, as teachers, need to teach. The curriculum sets out the skills involved under the heading Science Enquiry, it is spread across Key Stage 1 and 2. There are 3 sub- headings, which are: Planning; Obtaining and presenting evidence; and considering evidence and evaluating. Science is a process to find and explore new things.
In order for children to be able to explore and find things out, they need to explore and see for themselves; the best way for children to do this and in turn learn this- is by observation ‘Not all observations can be made in the classroom, therefore, trips outside the classroom are also valuable and important (Harlan, W. and Qualter, A. 2008, pg 213)’, for example, trips to the beach, local zoo and natural locations.
By taking part in the science lectures, I have come to realise the utter importance that observation in science is, and how beneficial it can be for children’s learning. During the school visit, where we focused on observation in the classroom while teaching our science session, it became apparent how important the role of observation is and how it plays a major part of being a teacher as observation does not just come under science, it is wide spread across the curriculum, for example, Design ; Technology, Art, Mathematics and English etc.
Observation is a fundamental part of teaching science to children; different aspects of science can be directly linked back to observation ‘Observation is arguably the most important skill in science and certainly the first skill that we develop. One view is that observation is something that children are very good at, but that, as they develop, they begin to simplify the world (Johnston, J. 2005, pg 33)’. When teaching science, there are two areas to consider. The first area is observation and the second being ‘an idea’.
Children need to be able to observe, see what is being explained to them, after this process, ideas can be generated by the children allowing them to make predictions. The children’s predictions will be turned into their hypothesis, what the children expect to happen. Throughout the experiment stage, children will be testing their hypothesis, observing if what they predict becomes fact or whether or not they are correct. Previous to the school visit we had to prepare a short science session to teach a small group of children from year 3.
Our main focus was observation, we had to encourage children to observe and talk about fruit. There are two types of observation: objective and subjective. Objective observation is precise observations; this is where children will see what is in front of them; what is actually there. For example, in our session about fruit, children said that the apple was shiny and smooth. The children were able to touch the apple; therefore they were able to make this objective observation.
Objective observation is crucial to children because it helps to children to make clear and precise observations, therefore children can focus and use their observations effectively. Subjective observation is the knowledge and understanding that children have within science, an insight to their ideas – what they already know. For example, the children may have tasted an apple before, so therefore, they were able to say that the apples were juicy, sour, bitter and crunchy. As the children were not tasting the apples they were using previous knowledge and understanding about how an apple should taste.
A good start to teaching observation would be to work with children and use observational drawing. Observational drawing can encourage focus and can promote close observations (children can get close to their fruit, smell it), for example, the children would have to study a particular piece of fruit and then make a detailed drawing of the fruit, the drawings will be a permanent record so the children are able to recall this information if required at a later date. The children would be focused and engaged during this process.
Drawing their observations may help with their understanding, as most of the children could not write clearly or coherently, therefore when it came to discussing their drawings, children were able to make positive contributions towards the discussion. Most children were able to label their drawing, with one word descriptions about the fruit, for example, one child wrote, ‘Smooth, green skin’. We made it clear that the children had to make their drawings as ‘life like’ as possible, allowing them to trace the fruit to get it to be the exact size.
This is beneficial to children as it allows them to use other areas of the curriculum to produce detailed work; for example, children use mathematics to make their drawing to scale. As the children had never made a detailed observational drawing before, we modelled what we wanted them to do, for example, we drew the first picture; however, we also asked questions about what we were drawing and if what we were drawing looked like the real fruit piece, if not, we asked the children to give advice on how we could perfect the drawing.
If I had the opportunity to do teach the science session again, I would definitely include magnifying glasses, I feel these resources would help children get much better detail in their work. ‘Observing does not mean simply looking and recording. It means being alert to the many features that may be observable and not only to those that are most obvious. Observation can assist pupils to bring questioning minds to their experience of things around them’ (Hodgson, B and Scanlon, E. 1985, pg 35)
Another way of promoting observation in the classroom will be for teachers to ask open questions, for example, starting the question with: what, when, where, how, instead of closed questions, for example, not allowing the children to expand on their answer, only allowing them to answer with one word. Using open questions, this allows children to discuss their answers in more detail. The questions need to be structured so that children can discuss their answers and ideas. Teachers should try to encourage children to find the answer for themselves through open questions; they need to not look for one particular answer.
For example, what are your ideas about how the guitar makes a sound? (Harlan, W. and Qualter, A. 2008, pg 143). Asking questions is an important means for adults as well as children to try to understand the things around us (Harlan, W. and Qualter, A. 2008, pg 28). When children are engaged in the study of something new they use their existing knowledge to make sense of it and try out the ideas they already know. Children ask all types of questions, in order to not deter questioning teachers must be able to handle a child’s question in the correct way.
For example, teachers must resist the temptation to give the children the answers and to do all the question raising (Harlan, W. and Qualter, A. 2008, pg 29); however, teachers can encourage children to raise questions by providing interesting and thought provoking materials and resources in and around the classroom (Harlan, W. and Qualter, A. 2008, pg 36). Questioning is an ideal form of assessment, teachers can observe the way in which a child tries to answer a particular question, it gives the teacher an insight to the child’s knowledge and understanding of what they have learnt.
Teachers need to make sure that the questions they ask are going to lead to a sensible answer. The questions need to be beneficial to the child’s learning and the lesson, always linking back to the learning objective. In order for me to promote good questioning in my classroom, focusing on observation, I will ensure that there are opportunities for speaking and listening, for example, class and group discussions. This is beneficial at the beginning of the lesson as it will enable the children to understand what is to be expected of them.
During the session in the school experience, we constantly used questioning while children were observing the fruit. We used open questions to provoke more detailed observations from the children, for example, a child suggested that the apple skin was smooth, so I asked the question, ‘why do you think the apple had skin? ‘ This question allowed that child to take a closer look at the fruit and the different fruits on the table to find out why most fruit have skin.
The child responded by stating that the skin could be used as protection from other animals being able to eat it. This allowed the child to access her own ideas and revealed her understanding of fruit being on the food chain. To conclude, children need to be able to use observational skills in order for them to find out and investigate about the world around them. Observation is not just about seeing; it’s about asking questions and finding out the answers. By doing it this way children are able to see for themselves and make their own predictions.
Completing this course in science has given me the confidence to teach observation through questioning and observational drawing to children. In my classroom practice, I would like to have a science display where children can observe different scientific topics, for example, one term we might have some ‘mini beasts’ (snails, ants and worms etc). The children would be able to touch and see these animals, hopefully using their own knowledge and understanding to make detailed observations about them.
By doing this, not only will they be learning about observation, but they will be learning about how to take care of animals – taking responsibility for something, using initiative; they will be looking at environments and habitats etc. Through planning my science lessons, during my school experience, I will focus on observation as I feel that this will create a fun learning environment. I feel that it will help children in all abilities, for example, children with dyslexia will most likely prefer to draw than write.
Children copying text from a text book is old fashioned, where is the learning; however, by making the children actively involved and being hands on with the lesson, I believe the children will take more from the lesson as they would have experienced more and can relate by doing. Science is a lesson to be enjoyed. I want children to be able to take the maximum information they possibly can out of my lessons. This can be achieved through effective planning and preparation.